What is Gluten a Q&A with Shirley Plant- Author of Finally… Food I Can Eat!


1)    What is gluten? – Gluten is a protein found in certain grains like wheat, barley, rye, spelt, and kamut.
2)    Who needs to avoid gluten in their diet?Those who are Celiac or those who have a gluten intolerance.
3)    What is Celiac Disease?
Celiac disease is a digestive disorder that damages the small intestine and interferes with absorption of nutrients from food.
 So those who have celiac disease cannot have any gluten in their diet.,
 Gluten is a protein in certain cereal grains like wheat, rye, barley, spelt, kamut. According to the Canadian Celiac Association, about one in 133 Canadians suffers from celiac disease.
Celiac disease is genetic and is sometimes triggered — or becomes active for the first time — after surgery, pregnancy, childbirth, viral infections or severe emotional stress. When people with celiac disease eat foods containing gluten, their immune system responds by damaging or destroying villi, the tiny protrusions lining the small intestine. Villi normally allow nutrients from food to be absorbed through the walls of the small intestine into the bloodstream. Without healthy villi, a person becomes malnourished, no matter how much food they eat.


If you are suspicious that you have celiac disease, talk to your doctor, who will likely order a simple blood test which can detect high levels of certain antibodies found in people with the disease. It’s possible that your doctor will also need to examine a part of your intestine using a thin tube called an endoscope that is inserted through your mouth down to your stomach, to see if the villi have been damaged.
 There is no cure for celiac disease and the only treatment is a gluten-free diet for life.
4)    So what does a gluten free diet look like? What do you EAT?! There is lots to eat, foods like quinoa, teff, millet, rice, corn, and of course foods like beans, lentils, meats, fish, vegetables are all fine
5)     Can you suggest some gluten free foods for people to try? Quinoa, millet, teff, arrowroot, tapioca, amaranth, hempseed, coconut, avocadoes, legumes, vegetables and the list goes on.
6)     Is it important to have allergy testing done before adapting your diet?  YES
7)    What are some symptoms of gluten intolerance or Celiac disease? Common symptoms of celiac disease include anemia, chronic diarrhea, weight loss, fatigue, cramping, bloating and irritability. 
8)    Are oats gluten free?
Oats are gluten free but they are often milled on production lines which also handle gluten containing cereals like barley, malt or wheat. 
This can cause cross contamination which is why there is a lot of debate around the topic of oats being gluten free.
9)    You have written a dietary guide and cookbook called Finally…Food I Can Eat, can you tell us about that and how it came about?
-Well I have had food allergies for a long time and I got tired of eating the same old rice cakes. I love to cook so when I had the time and energy I would make up recipes and try them out.  I have to admit that lots of the recipes ended up in the garbage , but over time I came up with some really good recipes. I wanted to share them with others who like me were struggling with what to eat.
10)           How do you come up with recipes? I like to convert old stanby  recipes, I look at magazines and cookbooks for ideas.
11)           What is the difference between a food allergy and a food intolerance?
An allergy refers to a response of the immune system.
A food allergy is an adverse immune response to a food protein
A protein in the food is the most common allergic component. These kinds of allergies occur when the body’s immune system mistakenly identifies a protein as harmful.
Some people have anaphylactic allergies, which are very serious and life threatening.
A food intolerance is a reaction that does not involve the immune system. It is caused by a problem in the way the body processes the food or food additive we have just eaten
I think what a lot of people don’t know is that a food allergy or intolerance can be delayed and is not always immediate. So you may find that you get a headache a day after you eat a certain food, not 10 minutes after you eat it.
12)           You are a dietary consultant, what does that entail? -I help people who are newly diagnosed with food allergies come up with menu ideas and customize recipes for those with dietary intolerance.
13)           What advice can you give someone who has just been diagnosed with gluten intolerance or food allergies? Take it slowly, go into a health food store and ask questions, ask for help. Look on the internet.  Don’t worry you will find foods to eat.
14)           I get asked this question all the time, what is quinoa and how do I cook it?–  Quinoa is a wonderful food. It hails back to the Incas. It is a teeny tiny seed actually, not a grain.  It is high in protein and vitamins and is very versatile. It can be used in soups, salads, stews, ground into flour to use in baking.You can eat it for breakfast, lunch or dinner, and have muffins and cookies made with quinoa flour.
15)           Any last thoughts to share with our audience?-
If you have just found out that you have food allergies or need to go gluten free, don’t fret, there are lots of foods and recipes to make. Many restaurants and food chains are offering gluten free options. It is much easier these days to find gluten free foods than is was 10 years ago.

About the Author

Written by: Shirley Plant
Shirley Plant is a nutritionist and the author of Finally… Food I Can Eat, a dietary guide and cookbook for people with food allergies, and those looking for healthy, tasty recipes. Shirley offers dietary counselling and menu planning through Delicious Alternatives.

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